PROVIDENCE — About a year ago, sitting at a seaside table at a South Kingstown restaurant, shooting salty oysters to celebrate getting their business off the ground during the pandemic, Manya Rubinstein was already concocting her next project.
After months of testing — and tasting — Rubinstein said she’s ready to unveil the Industrious Spirit Company’s (ISCO) newest bottle, né Ostreida, which she claims is the first vodka distilled with oysters in the country.
“We knew we wanted to blend land and sea to really capture the spirit of the Ocean State,” said Rubinstein, ISCO’s chief executive officer, in a recent phone interview with the Globe.
Other distilleries have come close to creating a product like Ostreida, such as “Dune Laker” from Distillery 98 in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, where distillers use oyster shells to filter the vodka to remove impurities. And the Oakland Spirits Co. has its “Automatic Sea Gin” in Oakland, California, which uses foraged nori, and their Automatic Halfshell Gin is made by crushing sweetwater oysters from Tomales Bay and throwing shells and meat into the still.
Across the pond, in the Netherlands, OYESTER’s vodka combines organic potatoes with a herb verbain and lemon balm with a mix of delicate oyster infusion and drops of Oosterschelde (a former estuary in the province of Zeeland) seawater.
But none, Rubinstein said, actually include oysters in the distillation process of a vodka like Ostreida does.
Ostreida boasts a palate of “savory salinity, crisp sea brine, and the unmistakable salty New England oyster perfume intwined on the buttery back bone” of ISCO’s organic corn distillate, according to Andrew Kientz, ISCO’s tasting room manager and experience director.
The distillation process starts with organic corn from Stone House Grain in the Hudson Valley, which Rubinstein said is committed to practicing regenerative agriculture, which is dried and milled to their specifications. The corn is shipped on pallets to the distillery in Providence and about 1,000 pounds of the corn are distributed into 50-pound bags. They are loaded into the cooker where they add water to create a “porridge-like” consistency. It’s pumped into a fermentor and yeast is added.
The yeast spends the next three to five days bouncing around this corn slurry and eating up all the sugars and starches to turn it into alcohol and Co2. At this point, Rubinstein explained, the product becomes a “corn beer” with a 10 percent alcohol solution. The solution is pumped into their 500 gallon stove by the Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Kentucky (custom designed for ISCO).
Distillers, led by Dan Neff and Eric Olson, then add steam to the solution, which ups its alcohol content to about 30 percent. This step takes about a day of work. They continue to add another 1,000 pounds of corn into the cooker, and run these steps again to combine solutions together. This process can take weeks, with several different runs, until the still is completely full. They heat up the still to run a distillation (this is called a finishing run) to create their neutral spirit, which now has a 95 percent alcohol solution.
At this point, they are removing some of the compounds, while also “telling the story of where they came from,” which boils down to an agricultural product, says Rubinstein. The final distillation, she said, is when distillers include the oysters.
She would not specify how exactly the oysters are included — whether they are mashed up and strained from the vodka, or if they are included whole, as it would “give away the secret sauce.” But Rubinstein did say that “the oysters have to be as fresh as possible. We have to get them that morning so we know they will retain as much of their true character as possible.”
“But we really didn’t know what to expect with this during the first few runs. But we were pleasantly surprised on how much of the oyster flavor really came through on this, and how well it tasted,” she said.
Future batches of Ostreida will be labeled with the type of oyster used in the distillation process and when they were farmed. One of the first few batches, Rubinstein said, used Duxbury oysters from Massachusetts, which are notably buttery and sweet with a crisp brine.
A portion of all bottle sales of Ostreida at bars, restaurants, and liquor stores will be donated to GreenWave, which is a nonprofit that trains and supports ocean farmers by working with coastal communities to create a blue economy. They replicate and scale regenerative ocean farms to create jobs and help protect the planet, says Krizl Soriano, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit.
Soriano said donations to GreenWave will expand online resources and tools to support farmers “from seed to scale,” provide regional trainings for fishermen, Indigenous groups, and other under-resourced coastal communities that are directly impacted by climate change. The funds will also help connect farmers with entrepreneurs to bring sustainably-raised seaweed and shellfish products to market in the US and Canada, said Soriano, who explained that GreenWave has trained farmers in Point Judith, Block Island and have worked with Farm Fresh RI’s Harvest Kitchen to develop recipes that feature kelp as a primary ingredient.
While there are several larger, name-brand distillers that are crafting a number of new products each year, Rubinstein said it’s especially important for her at ISCO, which was the first distillery in Providence to open since Prohibition, to be releasing unique products.
“We’re in an artist-driven community. In the Creative Capital. A lot of us [at ISCO] grew up here in Providence and around the city. You have to be willing to try something new and innovative. [People in] Providence punch above their weight,” she said. “So while we’re excited that we’re coming out with this new, unique product. I’m not surprised. I expect this from us.”
ISCO’s tasting room and distillery are located at 1 Sims Ave. #103 in Providence, Rhode Island. They are open Wednesdays through Fridays from 5 to 10 p.m., on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 6 p.m. ISCO is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. ISCOSpirits.com. Updates are regularly posted on their Instagram @iscospirits.